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Saudi Arabia is poised to lift a three and a half year land, air and sea blockade on its regional neighbour Qatar in a major diplomatic breakthrough, a Kuwaiti minister who has been brokering peace talks revealed late on Monday.
Negotiations have been ongoing for several months with signs of a breakthrough first emerging in early December when a senior Saudi official expressed optimism that the dispute with Qatar could be resolved soon.
Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, severed diplomatic ties, closed borders and imposed a physical blockade on Qatar in June 2017, accusing the small Persian Gulf country of funding Islamist extremists and siding with regional foe Iran.
The Saudi-led quartet immediately closed their airspace to Qatari registered aircraft, meaning that Qatar Airways was forced to reroute its aircraft in the tightly packed region through Iran, Turkey and Oman.
Qatar Airways also had to abruptly end service on 18 regional routes which had proved lucrative for the airline. In the case of Doha to Dubai, Qatar Airways used to shuttle planes between the two cities up to 18 times per day.
Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s chief executive has been an outspoken of the blockade and has repeatedly described it as “illegal”.
In July, Qatar Airways won a legal case at the International Court of Justice to allow the official civil aviation agency of the United Nations to decide whether Qatar Airways should be allowed to fly through the airspace of the blockading nations whether they liked it or not.
Separately, the airline is also pursuing a legal case in the English High Court against a Saudi news station that suggested Qatar Airways planes could be shot down if they violated the airspace restrictions.
The Kuwait News Agency reported on Monday evening that a deal had been reached between Saudi Arabia and Qatar and that land, air and sea borders will reopen as early as Monday night.
During the annual meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council held in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, the Saudi foreign minister said that its allies would also restore full diplomatic ties with Qatar and lift their blockades in the coming days.
“It has been agreed to open the skies and land and sea borders between The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening (Monday),” commented Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Dr Ahmed Nasser Al-Muhammad Al-Sabah.
The State of Qatar and Qatar Airways did not immediately comment on the news and as of Tuesday night, Qatari-registered aircraft were still avoiding Saudi airspace.
Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing - Mateusz has been there and done that. He's got the low down on what really works.